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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

16 December 2010

Jan and Tu

9th December 2010

Jan and Tu are our guides in the search for otters in southern Thailand. They’re fantastic company, are totally passionate about wildlife, and know Thailand’s national parks inside-out. They’ve been looking after us very well. They actually live in the north-east, in a splendid-looking house in Nan. After weeks of travelling and only meeting guesthouse staff, restaurant staff, shop staff and visitor centre staff it always feels great to make actual friends rather than just passing conversations. We’re a curmugeonly pair of hermits, so it has happened seldom over the last five months.

Anyway, they’ve been looking after us and couldn’t be more helpful. We went out to the swamp forest again (day two, still no otters) and tonight we’re going on a night safari. This evening Tu was telling us about the history of conservation in Thailand, which sounds remarkably strong.

Thailand is surrounded by countries like Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia from where we are always hearing depressing stories of unique natural habitats being trampled over by man’s activity, so it’s great that one country seems to be a haven for wildlife in the region. This wasn’t the case twenty years ago, when vast acres of rainforest were being logged annually for hardwood and there was little interest in wildlife.

One respected forest researcher called Mr Seub campaigned tirelessly for the protection of the forests. But as often happens, he wasn’t really getting anywhere. Then out of either despair or protest he shot himself. This tragedy raised such sadness and awareness in Thailand that almost immediately the government had banned logging of wild forest, and set about a program of research and the expansion of national parks such that Thailand now has a larger proportion of its land set aside for conservation than the USA. Hala Bala is one of these sanctuaries, and has a superb research team – including Mr Ning, who is researching otters.

It’s always fun staying at wildlife camps or research stations, with their odd residents. Not only does Hala Bala have a hornbill who thinks he’s a chicken, but the kitchen doesn’t need a rubbish bin – just throw the leftovers out of the window and a rota of huge monitor lizards will wander along and gobble it all up.

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